Thursday, October 30, 2014

Harvard Prof. of Physics: Just Ask. Then Keep Asking

The New York Times, September 14, 2011

Just Ask. Then Keep Asking.

By LISA RANDALL, professor of physics, Harvard University and author of "Knocking on Heaven's Door"

I was shy the way many geeky girls can be. Professors hardly noticed that they rarely answered girls’ questions before some boy who didn’t actually know the answer interrupted. But a professor who later became my adviser gave me the best advice I ever received, which was to not be afraid to speak up and ask questions. Suddenly teachers were speaking directly to me, and my questions were usually good enough that I could detect the relief of other students who actually had the same ones, reassuring me I was doing the right thing. Now, as a professor, I know not to see classes as passive experiences. The occasional interruption keeps people engaged and illuminates subtle points, and in research even leads to new research directions. Just participating and questioning makes your mind work better. Don’t you agree?

In the same article, "The Educational Experiences That Change a Life," others recall pivotal moments in their learning.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

1B: Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

Want to learn more about Flannery O'Connor?  Who doesn't? Check out some of these websites devoted to her: Perspectives in American Literature, the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame and Flannery O'Connor: Letters from Andalusia.

One of the most extensive websites concerning O'Connor is Comforts of Home: The Flannery O'Connor Repository.  There you will find links to online publications about O'Connor, study guides and biographical information. The New York Times also has a page on O'Connor.  Find an Atlantic magazine review of Brad Gooch's biography of O'Connor, Flanneryhere. More information about O'Connor's life and her writing is forthcoming because of Emory University's  acquisition of her letters, drafts, and journals. These materials will be available to the public.

O'Connor's self-portrait from 1953.

O'CONNOR and art 
from The Paris Review
Flannery O'Connor and the Habit of Art
April 30, 2012 | by Kelly Gerald

“For the writer of fiction,” Flannery O’Connor once said, “everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality, and as much of the world as can be got into it.” This way of seeing she described as part of the “habit of art,” a concept borrowed from the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. She used the expression to explain the way of seeing that the artist must cultivate, one that does not separate meaning from experience.

The sketches reproduced here are from Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons,
 work that she did in high school and college. 

The visual arts became one of her favorite touchstones for explaining this process. Many disciplines could help your writing, she said, but especially drawing: “Anything that helps you to see. Anything that makes you look.” Why was this emphasis on seeing and vision so important to her in explaining how fiction works? Because she came to writing from a background in the visual arts, where everything the artist communicates is apprehended, first, by the eye.

She had developed the habits of the artist, that way of seeing and observing and representing the world around her, from years of working as a cartoonist. She discovered for herself the nuances of practicing her craft in a medium that involved communicating with images and experimenting with the physical expressions of the body in carefully choreographed arrangements. Her natural proclivity for capturing the humorous character of real people and concrete situations, two rudimentary elements she later asserted form the genesis of any story, found expression in her prolific drawings and cartoons long before she began her career as a fiction writer.

Beginning at about age five, O’Connor drew and made cartoons, created small books, and wrote stories and comical sketches, often accompanied by her own illustrations. Although her interest in writing was equally evident, by the time she reached high school her abilities as a cartoonist had moved to the forefront. After her first cartoon was published in the fall of 1940, her work appeared in nearly every issue of her high-school and college newspapers, as well as yearbooks—roughly a hundred between 1940 and 1945—and most of these were produced from linoleum block cuts. When she graduated from the Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville in 1945, she was a celebrated local cartoonist preparing for a career in journalism that would, she hoped, combine work as a professional writer and cartoonist.

Go here to read the remainder of this essay.

O'CONNOR'S influence:
O'Connor is important to many writers, so they frequently mention her in their interviews and essays, T.C. Boyle among them. Here is what he had to say about her: 

"[L]et us not forget Flannery O'Connor. I discovered her as an undergraduate (for an adjective-rich description of your not-so-humble narrator at the time, see above). I was in a literature class--the Contemporary Short Story or some such. And she, the most remarkable American writer of the '50s, was where she so assuredly deserved to be--enshrined in a fat anthology. The story was A Good Man is Hard to Find, and it remains my favorite of all time, though certain pieces by the Three Cs (Cheever, Carver, and Coover) give it a run for the money. This story seems to me perfect in its radical synthesis of the horrific and the hilarious. I've read it a hundred times and I still laugh aloud at the scheming and senile grandmother, the howling brats, and the henpecked Bailey, and find the scene in which the grandmother's cat (Pitty Sing) attaches itself to the back of Bailey's neck, thus fomenting the accident, both chilling and (yes) wickedly funny. What ensues is a morality play that chills me right down to the black pit of my black heart. Accident rules the world, accident and depravity, and I don't have O'Connor's faith to save me from all that." (source: Reinhard Donat's webpage.)

O'Connor's notebooks. Photograph by Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

"Now I am perfectly willing to believe Flannery O’Connor when she said, and she wasn’t kidding, that the modern world is a territory largely occupied by the devil. No one doubts the malevolence abroad in the world. But the world is also deranged. . . . the novelist is entitled to a degree of artifice and cunning, as Joyce said; or the 'indirect method,' as Kierkegaard said; or the comic-bizarre for shock therapy, as Flannery O’Connor did." 
-- Walker Percy

"Flannery O’Connor was probably the biggest influence in my mature writing life. I didn’t discover her until I was at Arkansas, and I didn’t read her until I was around twenty-five, twenty-six. She was so powerful, she just knocked me down. I still read Flannery and teach her. . . . [I read] “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and then I read everything. . . . I thought the author was a guy. I thought it was a guy for three years until someone clued me in very quietly at Arkansas. “It’s a woman, Barry.” Her work is so mean. The women are treated so harshly. The misogyny and religion. It was so foreign and Southern to me. She certainly was amazing."
-- Barry Hannah

"I take comfort in the way that, say, Flannery O’Connor would tend to revisit the same situations without losing much in the way of her power or variety. You know, you have the surly daughter who is driven nuts by her mother’s cheer and simplistic piety and common sense, and a shiftless handyman around somewhere. There are recurring patterns in her work, but she manages to refresh them each time out. I suppose I hope to achieve something like that. . . . But to get back to Flannery O’Connor, what kind of experience did she have, afterall? She spent, what, one year away from her farm in Milledgeville? Yet her stories are full of life and drama and real humanity, and it’s because she kept her eyes open."
-- Tobias Wolfe

"A writer like Flannery O’Connor, in stories like “Good Country People” or “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” can not only make you laugh aloud, but make you cringe too. And make you think. To engage your humor and your emotions, that’s quite a trick. I’d like to think that I’m able to do that, to keep the reader off balance—is this the universe of the comedy or the tragedy? or some unsettling admixture of the two?—to go beyond mere satire into something more emotionally devastating, and gratifying. If that ain’t art, I don’t know what is."
-- T. Coraghessan Boyle

"My Dear God: A young writer’s prayers" by O'Connor was published in The New YorkerSeptember 16, 2013. The magazine introduces O'Connor's words by saying, how these "excerpts from her journal chart her thoughts on the subject of faith and prayer, and her hopes for her fiction."

A review of O'Connor's A Prayer Journal can also be found at NPR. Listen to or read the transcript of the November 20, 2013 broadcast here. 

Now for some words from O'Connor herself.  I invite you to read her address "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction" from 1960.  It is in this address that O'Connor says the following: "The social sciences have cast a dreary blight on the public approach to fiction. When I first began to write, my own particular bête noire was that mythical entity, The School of Southern Degeneracy. Every time I heard about The School of Southern Degeneracy, I felt like Br'er Rabbit stuck on the Tarbaby. There was a time when the average reader read a novel simply for the moral he could get out of it, and however naive that may have been, it was a good deal less naive than some of the more limited objectives he now has. Today novels are considered to be entirely concerned with the social or economic or, psychological forces that they will by necessity exhibit, or with those details of daily life that are for the good novelist only means to some deeper end."

When you get a chance, read her story "Good Country People". Funny, dark, tragic and wise: all the things another great O'Connor story delivers.

Milledgeville, GA is the town where O'Connor grew up and returned to as an adult.
 It also serves as the inspiration and landscape for many of her stories.   
A writer for The New York Times visited O'Connor's Georgia and shares his observations of what he found:

"THE sun was white above the trees, and sinking fast. I was a few miles past Milledgeville, Ga., somewhere outside of Toomsboro, on a two-lane highway that rose and plunged and twisted through red clay hills and pine woods. . . . Somewhere outside Toomsboro is where, in O'Connor's best-known short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a family has a car accident and a tiresome old grandmother has an epiphany.

"O'Connor's short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It's a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It's soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O'Connor's he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It's a land haunted by Christ — not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling."

from "In Search of Flannery O'Connor" by Lawrence Downes, The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2007.

You can also listen to O'Connor read "A Good Man is Hard to Find." It was recorded in 1959 at Vanderbilt University. Note how O'Connor's reading draws attention to the story's humor.

O'Connor loved birds, keeping many species on her farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.
   She was especially fond of  "the king of birds," the peacock, pictured with her, above.

1B: Flannery O'Connor & a '49 Mercury: Hearse-Like?

Last seen in PCC parking lot.  The Misfit at the wheel. Flannery O'Connor in the backseat.  David Lindley & El Rayo-X on the radio blasting "Mercury Blues."

1B: John Updike (1932-2009)

When I write, I aim in my mind
 not toward New York
 but toward a vague spot
 a little to the east of Kansas.
-- John Updike

There must be, then, a library just a little east of Kansas that is well-stocked in author aisle "U." Because as a young man John Updike made it a goal of his that he would publish a book a year.  It turns out that he did miss a year or two, but made up for the misses with many more hits, to the admiration of enthusiasts, bewilderment of observers, and irritation of detractors, as he published 75 books from 1958-2013. It is true that some of those 75 titles were collections of stories, essays and poems that had appeared in earlier editions. Still, it is quite a number, like a career sports record no other athlete will ever surpass or, even when blessed by Olympian gods and goddesses, match. Addressing Updike's publishing record, Louis Menand in The New Yorker, April 28, 2014, recalled, "David Foster Wallace once asked, quoting, he said, a friend, 'Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?' Not, apparently, if he could help it."

Tonight's reading assignment?  Tomorrow's?
Well, for someone, somewhere, in Updike's
imaginary place, "a little to the east of Kansas."  


American Academy of Achievement

John Updike Society

National Endowment for the Humanities

The Poetry Foundation

Chief claims he wears a Large.  Not true.
 All his friends know he is an XXL.
His other unsuccessful deceptions:
 he has never met, nor read John Updike. 

Videos with John Updike
[Highly Recommended.] John Updike talks with Jeffrey Brown of the PBS NewsHour (10 mins.)

Updike talks about his 'Rabbit' novels with Charlie Rose (3 mins.)

[Highly Recommended.The Paris Review: The Art of Fiction, number 43 (Winter 1968)

Photograph of check discovered at Famous Celebrity Autographs dot Com

Articles About

[Highly Recommended.John Updike, a Lyrical Writer of the Middle-Class Man, Dies at 76 (The New York Times, January 28, 2009)

AN APPRAISAL: A Relentless Updike Mapped America’s Mysteries (The New York Times, January 27, 2009)

John Updike's Animated Ambitions (Updike's interest in drawing is discussed.) (The Guardian, March 19, 2004)

A cover Updike drew for the Harvard Lampoon while he was a student.

John Updike’s Mighty Pen (The New York Times, January 31, 2009)

John Updike, who died on Tuesday at 76, was our Trollope and our Proust both. Though a brilliant man, he was not a novelist of ideas. His best character, Rabbit Angstrom, had trouble making sense of his own life, let alone the lives of those around him. Nor did Mr. Updike have a reformer’s zeal or a dreamer’s vision. His gifts were his eye and his sensibility, which enabled him to describe, with an exactitude bordering on love, how the world looked and what it felt like to make your way in it.

He was the great chronicler of middle-class America, and hundreds of years from now, if people still read, they will read the Rabbit books to learn what that perplexing age, the 20th century, was really like.

Mr. Updike was also America’s last true man of letters, an all-purpose writer and a custodian of literary culture. He wrote more, and in more different genres — stories, novels, poems, essays, reviews, occasional journalism — than anyone since Henry James, and it’s hard to imagine how he can be replaced. Who has the energy, or the eyeballs, for that much reading?

In many ways, though, Mr. Updike was an unlikely man of letters. He lived a quiet, burgherly life in a seaside Boston suburb and seldom went to literary parties. He dropped by New York now and then to visit museums and see relatives, but he never stayed long. He didn’t teach; he almost never gave blurbs; he belonged to no literary school or faction. His idea of a reward after a morning’s work was not lunch or drinks with other writers but a round of golf with his buddies.

Mr. Updike kept in touch with the literary world mostly by mail. He was a regular at the post office and eagerly awaited the arrival every day of the FedEx truck. He was old-fashioned in promptly and politely answering letters, and his correspondence was like the man himself: stylish, charming, gently self-deprecatory. Starting when he was in his late 50’s, it sometimes amused him to pretend to be a fogey and a valetudinarian. His submissions to The New Yorker, where I used to edit him sometimes, were often accompanied by a little note declaring that the enclosed was not very good and would probably be his last, because the well was going dry, the tank was empty, the field was fallow. In fact, until the very end of his life Mr. Updike was remarkably youthful, and he filed his last piece with the magazine just weeks before he died.

If, like me, you were lucky enough to share Mr. Updike’s enthusiasm for golf, you got periodic reports on the woeful state of his game and his hope, never diminished, of turning it around. He was a tireless sharer of “tips” — the little swing thoughts golfers use to trick their bodies into temporary compliance.

Drawing of Updike by Josh Cochran

But despite his distance from the literary center — the scrums, the parties, the gossip — or maybe because of it, Mr. Updike cast an enormous shadow. He was a father figure to generations of other writers — an “influence” not in the baleful Harold Bloom sense but in a more benign, encouraging way. On The New Yorker’s Web site and elsewhere last week spontaneous tributes popped up from writers as various as Gish JenJulian BarnesJohn IrvingJeffrey EugenidesRichard FordPaul TherouxT. C. Boyle, Antonya Nelson, George Saunders, ZZ Packer, Thomas McGuane, Lorrie Moore and Joyce Carol Oates, most of whom knew Mr. Updike barely, if it all. Toward the end of his life, there were a few naysayers, like David Foster Wallace and Sven Birkerts, who complained that Mr. Updike, along with Norman Mailer and Philip Roth — other aging “phallocrats” — had been hogging the stage too long and needed to shuffle off to the assisted-living facility and make room for younger, more vital talents. But many young writers felt no rivalry, only admiration. Two of them, Jonathan Lethem and Joseph O’Neill, novelists as different from each other as they were from Mr. Updike, got together on Tuesday evening for a drink in his memory, and doubtless there were others — in bars, lofts, living rooms in Brooklyn, the Upper West Side and Iowa City.

What other writers, young and old, prized most about Mr. Updike was his prose — that amazing instrument, like a jeweler’s loupe; so precise, exquisitely attentive and seemingly effortless. If there were a pill you could take to write like that, who wouldn’t swallow a handful? Equally inspiring was his faith in the writing itself. He toyed once or twice with magic realism, but the experiment never really worked and he gave it up. Though he loved Jorge Luis Borges, he didn’t in his own work go in for Borgesian mirror games, and he was free from the postmodern anxiety about the fictiveness of fiction, the unreliability of language. He was an old-fashioned realist, with an unswerving belief in the power of words to faithfully record experience and to enhance it. If other writers, younger ones especially, couldn’t quite subscribe to that belief, still it was reassuring to know that there was someone who did.

And other writers surely admired — and maybe envied a little — Mr. Updike’s success, his ability to make a living just from the fashioning of sentences, without selling out himself or others. He seldom took an advance and he never tailored his work to suit the fashion. The literary life as he led it seemed a higher calling, not a grubby one. Charmed as it sometimes seemed, though, his career had its ups and downs. Not all his efforts were successful, and he took his share of lumps from the critics, especially in the later years. But he got up every day uncomplaining and went to his desk with joyful industriousness. He had a faith in the literary enterprise that was noble and touching.

Secretly, what almost every writer wanted was Mr. Updike’s attention and good opinion. He was a prodigious reader, and communicated to the world at large mostly by means of his essays and reviews — generous, judicious, thoughtful. Praise from Mr. Updike meant something, and not just abstractly. Favorable notices from him gave huge boosts to the careers, for example, of Erica JongThomas Mallon and Jonathan Safran Foer. Mr. Updike couldn’t read everyone, of course. He was a father figure with far too many children all craving his notice, and yet he awarded his favors so evenly that it was hard to complain. A writer could always daydream: Maybe he’s reading my book this very minute. I wonder what he thinks.

Every now and then, if something in a magazine caught Mr. Updike’s eye, he would send the author a little fan note, often typed on a postcard with his name and address hand-stamped in blue ink. He also had a stamp he used to address all his correspondence to Alfred A. Knopf, his publisher. There was something endearingly quaint about these little inky imprints — a legacy perhaps of a Depression boyhood and a lifetime habit of efficiency — but they also reflected his enduring fascination with the magic of print.

to read the above article on its website, go to "John Updike’s Mighty Pen" (The New York Times, January 31, 2009)

Pictured above is an example of Updike's own careful edits to what would become
the first page of his novel Rabbit at Restthe fourth volume in his 'Rabbit' tetralogy.
  To read more about his working manuscripts, books and other papers
 related to his life and writing career now held at Harvard, his alma mater,
 visit this site.

Times Topics (Extensive coverage, articles and videos, of Updike by The New York Times)

"Remembering Updike" by Joyce Carol Oates
The New Yorker
January 28, 2009
Posted by Joyce Carol Oates

John Updike was a slightly-older classmate in a vast high school populated by not-prosperous rural youths in some netherland of the nineteen-fifties. Of course, John was president of this class; no doubt I was secretary. I’ve been reading John’s work since I became an adult and can only content myself with the prospect of rereading his work through the remainder of my life. I think there must be a story or two, and even one of his more slender novels, which, unaccountably, I have not yet read. My students love “Friends from Philadelphia,” which was John’s first published story in The New Yorker. What a seemingly artless little gem! My students are stunned by it and by the fact that John wrote it when he was hardly older than they are.

We’d met a number of times—my (late) husband, Raymond Smith, and I visited John and Martha in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, on several very nice occasions. John was always gracious, warmly funny, kind, and bemused—and of course very bright, and ardent, when it came to literature. When he gave a brilliant talk and reading at Princeton some years ago, I was pleased to introduce him to a large, packed auditorium. I teach his lovely short stories all the time—his language is luminous, sparkling, and glinting, with a steely sort of humor. I never knew how serious John was about his Christian faith—or, rather, the Christian faith—though some sense of the sacred seems to suffuse his work like that sort of sourceless sunshine which illuminates an overcast day. I will miss him terribly, as we all will.

1B: Junot Diaz (b. Dec. 31, 1968)

Do you see the photograph, above?  Of course you do.   It's of Junot Diaz, born December 31, 1968, and it accompanies an interview with him called "Junot Díaz: Growing the Hell Up" that ran in Rablè International. It is a good interview as he talks about his writing, reading, the Dominican Republic where he was born, New Jersey where he grew up, and how his mother motivated him. He recalls,  "Mom was like, 'Either you’re taking col­lege clas­ses, even though you’re wor­king full time, or you can live on the street.' And it was a smart thing for her to do. Because if I hadn’t been kept busy, I would have defi­ni­tely just lost my way. I was one of those kids who, I gotta tell you, man, I was not one of the smar­test kids gro­wing up. But who is?"

Díaz is critically acclaimed, best known for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Published in 2007, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It has been translated for readers around the world; translator Achy Obejas describes the process from English to Spanish/Dominican. (If you do get around to reading novel, you may want to keep the annotated Oscar Wao nearby; thanks to a mysterious Kim for her hard work and creating the website.) In 2012 Díaz was awarded a MacArthur "genius grant," a $500,000 prize. To learn about his life and career, you can take a look at his website, which also discusses his publications.


At the National Book Foundation website you can learn more about Diaz.  You'll find biographical material about him and a video of him reading a story from his 2012 collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Here, a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction. There is also a video at the website of Diaz and Toni Morrison in discussion at a New York Public Library program.

Interview with Junot Díaz
by Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane: Congratulations on This Is How You Lose Her being named a Fiction Finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. I know this must be a busy time for you, so many thanks in advance for doing this. How did you learn you’d been named a Finalist and what was your first response?

Junot Díaz: I was of course in a bookstore buying books—which seems to be where I always am—in Kinokuniya to be precise—when Harold Augenbraum rang me up on my cell. I first thought he was going to hit me up again to be on a jury and then he told me the good news and I have to say I was frankly floored. I put my back against Naruto and just breathed a while.

MBK: Of the five Finalists this year, This Is How You Lose Her is the only collection of short stories. What, in your opinion, is the state of the short story today?

JD: Yup, the only short story collection amongst all these wonderful heavy-hitting novels—let's just say it leaves one feeling a little like the Red Shirts in an old Star Trek episode. But anyway, as for the short story itself I believe the form is having a golden age. Sure, some publishers and some readers are biased against it but right now the form has so many extraordinary practitioners, from Pam Houston to Edward P. Jones, from Chris Lee to Jennine Capo Crucet, from Thomas Glave to Tania James to Maureen F. McHugh—if you love to read short stories like I do you can read a perfect tale nearly every day and never be without.

Click here to read the rest of this interview.

A Croation edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Interview with Junot Díaz
by Bill Moyers

From the Bill Moyers television show webpageThe interview was conducted December 28, 2012.

"Díaz joins Bill [Moyers] to discuss the evolution of the great American story. Along the way he offers funny and perceptive insights into his own work, as well as Star WarsMoby Dick, and America’s inevitable shift to a majority minority country.

"There is an enormous gap between the way the country presents itself and imagines itself and projects itself and the reality of this country,” Díaz tells Bill. “Whether we’re talking about the Latino community in North Carolina. Whether we’re talking about a very active and I think in some ways very out queer community across the United States. Or whether we’re talking about an enormous body of young voters who are either ignored or sort of pandered to or in some ways, I think that what we’re having is a new country emerging that’s been in the making for a long time.”
Watch the full Bill Moyers interview with Díaz here.

A Brazilian edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz & Stephen Colbert

Díaz is a man of strong character.  He appeared on the Colbert Report twice.  You can watch the June 19, 2008 and the March 26, 2013 interviews by clicking on the date for each.

An Indonesian edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

More Interviews & Talks with Junot Díaz

Díaz also did interviews with Literal Magazine: Latin American VoicesThe Daily BeastGrantland, Latin Post, and Nerdsmith.  The great Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat conversed with Díaz for BOMB MagazineDíaz gave a talk at Harvard's Nieman Foundation, a program devoted to narrative nonfiction writing.  You can listen to two NPR interviews with Díaz, broadcast on  September 11, 2012 and October 5, 2012. The New York Times published a profile of Diaz in its magazine, September 27, 2012; it's called "Junot Diaz Hates Writing Short Stories".

A Netherlands edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz, Octavia Butler and PCC

Here's a bit of trivia about Díaz and Pasadena City College.  Octavia Butler, the late science fiction writer (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) and PCC alum, A.A. 1968, is Díaz's "personal hero," something he revealed in an interview with The New York Times of August 30, 2012. When asked which three writers, living or dead, he would invite to dinner, he picked Butler "because she’s my personal hero, helped give the African Diaspora a future (albeit a future nearly as dark as our past) and because I’d love to see her again."  Here is a brief interview with Butler and her obituary.

A Turkish edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Essays by Junot Díaz

Homecoming, With Turtle
by Junot Díaz
The New Yorker, June 14, 2004

That summer! Eleven years ago, and I still remember every bit of it. Me and the girlfriend had decided to spend our vacation in Santo Domingo, a big milestone for me, one of the biggest, really: my first time “home” in nearly twenty years. (Blame it on certain “irregularities” in paperwork, blame it on my threadbare finances, blame it on me.) The trip was to accomplish many things. It would end my exile—what Salman Rushdie has famously called one’s dreams of glorious return; it would plug me back into that island world, which I’d almost forgotten, closing a circle that had opened with my family’s immigration to New Jersey, when I was six years old; and it would improve my Spanish. As in Tom Waits’s song “Step Right Up,” this trip would be and would fix everything.
Maybe if I hadn’t had such high expectations everything would have turned out better. Who knows? What I can say is that the bad luck started early. Two weeks before the departure date, my novia found out that I’d cheated on her a couple of months earlier. Apparently, my ex-sucia had heard about our planned trip from a mutual friend and decided in a fit of vengeance, jealousy, justice, cruelty, transparency (please pick one) to give us an early bon-voyage gift: an “anonymous” letter to my novia that revealed my infidelities in excruciating detail (where do women get these memories?). I won’t describe the lío me and the novia got into over that letter, or the crusade I had to launch to keep her from dumping me and the trip altogether. In brief, I begged and promised and wheedled, and two weeks later we were touching down on the island of Hispaniola. What do I remember? Holding hands awkwardly while everybody else clapped and the fields outside La Capital burned. How did I feel? All I will say is that if you fused the instant when heartbreak occurs to the instant when one falls in love and shot that concoction straight into your brain stem you might have a sense of what it felt like for me to be back “home."
To read all of Diaz's essay on Santo Domingo click here.

He'll Take El Alto
Dominican Food in Northern Manhattan
by Junot Díaz
Gourmet, September 2007

In those early days of our immigration (so the story goes), we Dominicans had no restaurants. There were no Caridads, no Malecons, no chimichurri trucks anywhere in sight. The first of us survived primarily on other people’s larders. On NY street food, on Puerto Rican fritura, on Cuban black beans. The street stuff—the hot dogs, the hamburgers, the pizza—was worth bragging about on visits to the Island, but nothing you could hang a life on. As for the Cuban and Puerto Rican grub—familiar, yes, but when you’re a thousand miles from home, cut off from your cultural and ancestral ley lines—and dying for a taste of mangú—not familiar enough.

Been 40 years since those bad old days, and much has changed for us Dominicans, especially in New York. Where before we were a couple thousand souls scattered throughout the five boroughs, today we’re nearly a million strong in the greater metropolitan area, the majority concentrated in upper Manhattan (or El Alto, as it is known in Spanish). Starting at 135th Street on the west side and running all the way into Washington Heights and Inwood, Alto Manhattan is to the Dominican community what Miami is to Cubans, what the LES and El Barrio used to be to Puerto Ricans—the Ground Zero of our New Jerusalem, the place we settled most successfully in the wake of our diaspora. It’s here where we achieved the condition that must have seemed unimaginable to our first sojourners: density. Density: not great for childhood or privacy, but wonderful for community and of course for the appetite. The “forefathers” might have lived off other people’s larders, but that’s not something their children have to worry about. We actually have the opposite problem. If you’re in upper Manhattan and can’t score a decent taste of Dominican cooking, either you’re trying real hard to screw up, or something’s very wrong with your luck. The trouble is not finding good spots but simply trying to decide which ones to choose. 

To read all of Diaz's essay on Dominican food click here.

What Disasters Reveal
by Junot Díaz
Boston Review,  May 1, 2011


On January 12, 2010 an earthquake struck Haiti. The epicenter of the quake, which registered a moment magnitude of 7.0, was only fifteen miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince. By the time the initial shocks subsided, Port-au-Prince and surrounding urbanizations were in ruins. Schools, hospitals, clinics, prisons collapsed. The electrical and communication grids imploded. The Presidential Palace, the Cathedral, and the National Assembly building—historic symbols of the Haitian patrimony—were severely damaged or destroyed. The headquarters of the UN aid mission was reduced to rubble, killing peacekeepers, aid workers, and the mission chief, Hédi Annabi.

The figures vary, but an estimated 220,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the quake, with hundreds of thousands injured and at least a million—one-tenth of Haiti’s population—rendered homeless. According to the Red Cross, three million Haitians were affected. It was the single greatest catastrophe in Haiti’s modern history. It was for all intents and purposes an apocalypse.


Apocalypse comes to us from the Greek apocalypsis, meaning to uncover and unveil. Now, as James Berger reminds us in After the End, apocalypse has three meanings. First, it is the actual imagined end of the world, whether in Revelations or in Hollywood blockbusters. Second, it comprises the catastrophes, personal or historical, that are said to resemble that imagined final ending—the Chernobyl meltdown or the Holocaust or the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that killed thousands and critically damaged a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Finally, it is a disruptive event that provokes revelation. The apocalyptic event, Berger explains, in order to be truly apocalyptic, must in its disruptive moment clarify and illuminate “the true nature of what has been brought to end.” It must be revelatory.

To read all of Díaz's essay on Haiti click here.
Edwidge Danticat, author of the memoir Brother, I'm Dying, pictured at left, above, and Díaz share much in common as immigrants, writers, and political activists. Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 19, 1969; Díaz in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on December 31, 1968.  Danticat and Díaz both won the National Book Critics Award in 2008 for Brother, I'm Dying and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, respectively. They co-authored  "The Dominican Republic's War On Haitian Workers," an op-ed piece which ran in The New York Times, November 20, 1999,  Danticat and Diaz have also appeared on programs together; they can be heard on a Lannan Foundation podcast, from November 30, 2005.

A Letter re: the Dominican Republic and Haiti by Junot Díaz, Edwidge Danticat et al (in response to "Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo By Court", The New York Times, October 24, 2013; the letter can be found below and on The New York Times editorial page, published October 31, 2013.)
To the Editor:
For any who thought that there was a new Dominican Republic, a modern state leaving behind the abuse and racism of the past, the highest court in the country has taken a huge step backward with Ruling 0168-13.
According to this ruling, the Dominicans born to undocumented parents are to have their citizenship revoked. The ruling, retroactive to 1929, affects an estimated 200,000 Dominican people of Haitian descent, including many who have had no personal connection with Haiti for several generations.
Such appalling racism is a continuation of a history of constant abuse, including the infamous Dominican massacre, under the dictator Rafael Trujillo, of an estimated 20,000 Haitians in five days in October 1937.
One of the important lessons of the Holocaust is that the first step to genocide is to strip a people of their right to citizenship.
What will happen now to these 200,000 people — stateless with no other country to go to?
The ruling will make it challenging for them to study; to work in the formal sector of the economy; to get insurance; to pay into their pension fund; to get married legally; to open bank accounts; and even to leave the country that now rejects them if they cannot obtain or renew their passport. It is an instantly created underclass set up for abuse.
How should the world react? Haven’t we learned after Germany, the Balkans and South Africa that we cannot accept institutionalized racism?
Mark Kurlansky
Junot Díaz
Edwidge Danticat
Julia Alvarez
New York, Oct. 29, 2013

The four writers, Díaz, Danticat, Kurlansky, and Alvarez, also co-authored "In the Dominican Republic, Suddenly Stateless," which ran in the Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2013. They examined how "Dominicans of Haitian descent are losing their citizenship as their nation reinstates an old form of racism."

1B: Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

Raymond Carver (1938-88) said in a 1977 interview,
 “I am beginning to feel like a cigarette with a body attached to it.”
Photograph by Bob Adelman, Syracuse, New York, 1984.

"A writer ought to speak about things that are important to him. . . . I tend to go back to the time and the people I knew well when I was younger and who made a very strong impression on me . . . . most of the people in my stories are poor and bewildered, that's true. The economy, that's important . . . I don't feel I'm a political writer and yet I've been attacked by right-wing critics in the U.S.A. who blame me for not painting a more smiling picture of America, for not being optimistic enough, for writing stories about the people who don't succeed. But these lives are as valid as those of the go-getters. Yes, I take unemployment, money problems, and marital problems as givens in life. People worry about their rent, their children, their home life. That's basic. That's how 80-90 percent, or God knows how many people live. I write stories about a submerged population, people who don't always have someone to speak for them. I'm sort of a witness, and, besides, that's the life I myself lived for a long time. I don't see myself as a spokesman but as a witness to these lives. I'm a writer."
--Raymond Carver

The above remarks by Carver were taken from an interview he did in spring 1987. For the complete text of this interview and one other with Carver, view this link.

Things to do when you're reading Carver

One:  [Recommended.] Watch the videos, above, about Carver.
Two: [Recommended.] Read the Carver pages at the Poetry Foundation.
Three: [Recommended.Read Carver's interview with the Paris Review, from Summer 1983.
Four: [Recommended]:  Read articles, take your pick, on Carver that are linked at The New York Times.
Five: [Recommended]: Visit The New Yorker's Raymond Carver page.  The magazine has published many of Carver's stories and remembrances of him over the years.
The New Yorker has been in the process of redesigning its Carver pages.  The following links may or may not work:
The draft of the story, "Beginners," which became "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," can be found  here. The Gordon Lish edited version--"Beginners," heavily edited--also appears at The New Yorker's site.  It is an excellent example of the dynamics, or call it the conflict, that exist between writer and editor. See a discussion of Carver's July 8, 1980 letter to Lish, protesting recent editorial cuts (some as much as 70%) of his collection of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  Letters from Carver to Lish, including the July 8, 1980 Carver letter to Lish, can be found here. 

Raymond Carver, Summer 1969. Photograph by Gordon Lish

Six: The Library of America publishes, as they say, "Authoritative texts of great American writing." They have a page on Carver. They also made a statement on Gordon Lish's editing of "Beginners"/"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and a letter, a tortured letter, by Carver with a plea to Lish to return the story more closely to the original. The Library of America's statement and Carver's letter appear here.
Seven:  Thanks to Andy Ngo of English 1B, here's "The Bath" in PDF. If this link is broken, find "The Bath" at this address:
Eight: Find an early version of "So Much Water So Close to Home" right here. Please note, however, that this version incorrectly includes a question mark ("?") at the end of the story; it should end with a period.

Redesign of Raymond Carver book covers by Todd Hido

Nine: Carver's stories have inspired a number of films.  They include  Short Cuts by Robert Altman (and a cast of dozens, at least).  Go here to read an interview with filmmaker Altman and poet Tess Gallagher, Carver's widow. Here's Roger Ebert's review of Short Cuts. A list of other Carver-inspired films can be found at IMDB.
Ten: Want to learn more about Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish? Read this from The New York Review of Books.   Thanks to former English 1B student Oshin Edralin, we have a YouTube video to watch about Lish and Carver. Here it is:

Eleven: [Recommended]:  For poetry by Carver go to this site at the Poetry Foundation and click the tab for "Poems, Articles and More." Poetry Soup has a pretty good sample of his poetry, too, as does All Poetry.

Carver described, in a Paris Review interview from the Summer 1983 issue, his writing process and the hard but pleasurable work involved in doing revisions: 

"Much of this work time, understand, is given over to revising and rewriting. There's not much that I like better than to take a story that I've had around the house for a while and work it over again. It's the same with the poems I write. I'm in no hurry to send something off just after I write it, and I sometimes keep it around the house for months doing this or that to it, taking this out and putting that in. It doesn't take that long to do the first draft of the story, that usually happens in one sitting, but it does take a while to do the various versions of the story. I've done as many as twenty or thirty drafts of a story. Never less than ten or twelve drafts."

For The Paris Review's complete interview with Carver, visit this page.

Group work at its finest? Or a staged photo op? From left to right, clockwise: Kary, Elizabeth, Elia, 
Nancy, Sara, and Stephanie, take on Carver's "Fever" at Shatford Library. (June 1, 2011.)

The Carver Gang discussing "What We Talk About When We Talk About Caffeine."
Clockwise, left to right: Stephanie, Tina, Sara, Kary, Brian, Some Guy, Kim and Nancy. June 8, 2011.

In the Paris Review interview, published in the Summer 1983 issue, Carver also discussed the purpose and pleasure of fiction:

"The days are gone, if they were ever with us, when a novel or a play or a book of poems could change people's ideas about the world they live in or even about themselves. Maybe writing fiction about particular kinds of people living particular kinds of lives will allow certain areas of life to be understood a little better than they were understood before. But I'm afraid that's it, at least as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps it's different in poetry. . . . Good fiction is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another. That end is good in and of itself, I think. But changing things through fiction, changing somebody's political affiliation or the political system itself, or saving the whales or the redwood trees, no. Not if these are the kinds of changes you mean. And I don't think it should have to do any of these things, either. It doesn't have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure that's taken in reading something that's durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks—a persistent and steady glow, however dim."

For The Paris Review's complete interview with Carver, visit this page.

"I'm not a 'born' poet. I don't know if I'm a 'born' anything except a white American male,Carver said of himself in the Paris Review interview from the Summer 1983 issue. Photograph by Marion Ettlinger for Carver's 1985 poetry collection, Where Water Comes Together With Other Water.